When developing your content strategy, have you secretly wondered about the difference between tone and voice?

Recording microphone to signify both voice and tone

According to Janice Castro of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, your editorial voice conveys your personality and authority.

On the other hand, editorial tone conveys emotion or attitude.

Voice as a Record

Based on this distinction, voice is consistent and tone is variable. Think about how our overarching personality remains fairly steady (adventurer, thinker, leader), whereas our moods and attitudes may change depending on our current situation (excited, frustrated, happy).

The graphics below depict this difference. Think of the record as being your editorial voice. Bands and their records normally have a distinctive sound and style that you can recognize instantly when you hear it.

Similarly, your editorial voice will flow through everything you write, eventually developing into a recognizable and distinctive personality.

Graphic depicting voice as a record called "Steady as She Goes"

Tone as the Songs

Tone can be thought of as the different emotions or feelings evoked by the individual songs on a record. While a band’s distinctive sound carries through the whole record, within their album you might find sad, manic, and romantic songs.

Graphic depicting tone through song charts

In writing, the tone is the mood created by the individual piece. For example, the mood for this post is meant to be fun and educational.

By contrast, our post about Net Neutrality—In Support of an Open Internet—struck a more serious and opinionated tone, because we were declaring our stance on an important issue.

Tone Versus Voice

To summarize—editorial voice is represented by the record (and, by extension, the collection of a band’s records. The voice may develop and mature through time, but it charts a steady course). Voice is the steady personality of your writing. 

Tone is the moods and attitudes conveyed by the individual songs. These will vary more frequently, but within the confines of the overarching personality. Tone is the shifting moods and attitudes of your individual pieces. 

Hopefully this post, and the music analogy, has helped you better understand the difference between editorial tone and voice. If you have a different way of thinking about voice and tone, please share with us in the comments section below.

This blog post was inspired by a lecture provided by Janice Castro in Content Strategy for Professionals—a MOOC that is currently being offered by Northwestern University on Coursera.